One night, in a peaceful New England town “like many others,” shag-carpet salesman Rod is just sitting down to dinner with his sister and his fiancee when he catches a whiff of something fishy. It could be the food at the seafood restaurant where they are dining, or perhaps something even more potent—“The Well of Horniness.” Though never explicitly defined in the play, “the well” alludes to lesbianism—or just vaginas in general—the cavernous source of life and lust.
This noir detective comedy staged like a 1940’s radio show opens with a jazzy game-show tune and segues into a brief message from its “sponsors” House of Shag ‘n’ Stuff and Clams-A-Go-Go, before narrator Andrea Bush sets the scene and introduces Rod (Kelly Hutchison), his waspy, Excedrin-loving fiancee Vicki (Elizabeth Scollan), and his scantily clad, Sapphic sister Georgette (Ann Turiano). When Vicki learns that Georgette is also an alum of the notorious Tridelta Tribads, an alleged sorority better known for stirring up trouble than mixing cocktails, she becomes terrified that Rod will discover her secret lesbian past.
When Rod is otherwise occupied with his carpet business, it doesn’t take long for Vicki to fall into Georgette’s open arms and legs as they dine on more than just spaghetti at the Vixen’s Den Dinner Theater. One jealous lover, a curious under-the-table encounter, and a double Harvey Wallbanger later, a gunshot is fired offstage, Georgette is found dead in the powder room, and madness ensues.
With Georgette out of the picture, “Lady Dick” Garnet McClit must solve this murder mystery and prove Vicki’s innocence. McClit, played by Katie Hileman, is a no-nonsense butch detective who, we imagine, likes to drink her whiskey straight. Although her character doesn’t interrogate any suspects, and only manages to get her hands on one clue—in fact, she’s a pretty shitty detective—she spends a lot of time furiously scribbling in her notepad and puffing on cigarettes.
At just under an hour, Holly Hughes’ 1983 play runs start to finish without stopping to take a breath: the whirlwind plot twists, rapid costume and scene changes, and barrage of crude jokes and sexual innuendoes afford the play an old-school, sitcom-like quality. The stage is almost constantly in motion as characters run in and out of scenes and stagehands move props and scenery while the drama continues to unfold. Characters play out the action while the narrator speaks over them, and the old-fashioned sound effects of clinking glasses and rustling newspapers add to the play’s manic energy.
Pay special attention to Chloe Mikala, who portrays a myriad of characters. Her comical facial expressions, voices, and physical comedy added an element of absurdity that exploded out of each of her lines, fueling the play’s comedic excess. Just about every line in the play is loaded down with countless sexual puns and innuendos that help to breathe hot and heavy life into the play. It’s almost overwhelming being bombarded by such a barrage of one-liners, and some come so quickly and often that they hardly had time to land before it was onto the next one.
As a play by a woman, about women, with an all-female cast, there was an expectation for the presence of a strong “lady power” theme. While men are snubbed and there’s an important focus on the female sex drive that is so often missing from the conversation, the ending didn’t quite reflect the entirety of the play which seems to uphold different ideals. A majority of the plot revolves around Vicki and her hidden desire to be with a woman, despite the taboo nature of such behavior in her small New England town. We rejoice (and laugh) when she falls for woman after woman, and applaud our “damsel in distress” when she casts off her inattentive fiancee.
However, it all appears to be for naught when, like the women who are fortunate enough to get some during the play, the frantic, bodice-ripping buildup doesn’t lead to much and, in the end, no one really gets to come. At the end of the play we even see Vicki with Rod’s “rod” practically shoved in her face as he leans his overstuffed pants against the daybed where she lies. It would have been nice to see this soon-to-be-unhappy housewife get to be with someone she actually wants to fuck, but it also draws attention to a serious problem that remains for closeted gay women and others who are forced to suppress their sexual feelings. Just as women continue to quell their desires and miss out on the sexual and romantic satisfaction they could be having because, well, patriarchy, Vicki, Georgette, and—to an extent—the audience are deprived of their happy endings as well.